Archives For September 2013

American Express OPEN Forum is a great example of successful Content Marketing. In his book “Epic Content Marketing”, Joe Pulizzi defines Content Marketing as the marketing and business process for creating and distributing valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly define and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable consumer action. Content marketing is a strategy that focuses on the creation of a valuable experience.  American Express understands the importance of a brand publishing useful content for their target audience. They have become a “trusted authority” for small business owners.

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OPEN Forum is an online community of small businesses hosted by American Express. Members use OPEN Forum to exchange insights, to get advice and expand connections. Open Forum helps business owners make smarter decisions. The mission of OPEN Forum is to provide small business owners information, education and connection. OPEN Forum is a community with content at its core.

OPEN Forum was launched in 2007 as a digital home for live events where small business owners gained valuable information while networking with each other. In 2008, during the middle of the recession, OPEN Forum established itself as a blog for small business topics. OPEN Forum partnered with industry leaders such as Guy Kawasaki, Chris Brogan and Ann Handley of MarketingProfs to post expert content. This approach helped OPEN Forum build credibility. The idea for Small Business Saturday came from this community.

The site’s content provides useful information that small business owners want and need. Popular topics include productivity, business management and finance. The site is aimed at small business owners who are time pressed and in constant search for ways to improve their business. The site focuses very clearly on their needs with insightful content in multiple formats such as videos, infographics, blog posts, articles and audio. It also attempts to be helpful with practical tools, how to content, marketing tips, and latest industry forecasts. The site has user-generated content but also content from publishers.

American Express has seen positive returns from OPEN Forum. American Express OPEN is the leading payment card issuer for small businesses in the United States. American Express OPEN Forum has over 1 Million monthly unique visitors. 85% traffic comes from unpaid sources as readers share the content with their own social networks, bringing back more visitors. Their number one goal to drive people to small businesses. They understand that if small businesses keep growing they will be successful as well. The business goal is to increase brand awareness and sign-ups to AmEx products, American Express intentionally do not publish self-promotional content.

I believe that there are several great lessons to be learned from the American Express OPEN Forum initiative:

  • Understand the needs of your target audience
  • Have a clearly defined content mission
  • Provide valuable and useful content that helps your audience
  • Don’t use content to sell, establish yourself as a “Trusted Advisor”. 
  • Leverage experts outside your organization to provide relevant content.
  • Commit for the long haul – Content Marketing is not a campaign but a long-term effort to engage your audience.

Can you think of other brands who are doing a great job of Content Marketing?


John Deere is one of the top brands in the world. It is a great example of innovation, core values, brand purpose and content marketing. I believe that a brand purpose that genuinely helps consumers and a content marketing strategy based on being useful are critical for building brands today. Founded in 1837, by John Deere, a blacksmith and inventor, the Deere Company has grown into one of the most admired businesses in the world. It is a brand built on integrity, commitment, quality and innovation. For over 170 years, the brand has stayed true to its core purpose of serving people linked to the land and helping to improve living standards for people everywhere. Their brand purpose guides their business strategy.


In 1836, John Deere faced difficult business conditions in Vermont. He also had a young family to care for. John took a gamble that paid off. He traveled alone to Grand Detour, Illinois to make a fresh start. His skills as a blacksmith were in high demand. The new pioneer farmers in the midwest struggled to turn heavy, sticky prairie soil with cast iron plows designed for the light, sandy soil of New England. John Deere was convinced that a plow that was highly polished and properly shaped would solve this problem. In `1837, he created such a plow, using a broken saw blade. During the months and years that followed, John Deere would work closely with farmers to listen to their needs and understand their challenges and work to continue to improve the plow. John Deere was “customer centric” long before the term was popularized. This approach has been very successful. In 2012, John Deere generated $36 Billion in global sales.

The John Deere Company was also one of the original “Content Marketers”. In 1895, John Deere started publishing a magazine for farmers called “The Furrow”. The company published the magazine in hopes of being a resource for their customers. The Furrow magazine was not designed to sell John Deere equipment directly as a catalog would do. The content featured in The Furrow was educational, and it focused on teaching farmers how to be more successful business owners. If farmers were successful, they were likely to need more John Deere products. The magazine was not filled with promotional messages and self-serving content. The content was developed by journalists and storytellers and covered topics that farmers cared deeply about. The goal was to help farmer’s become more profitable. They understood what really mattered to their customers.


Today “The Furrow” is the largest circulated farming magazine in the world. it is also available online. It is delivered to over 1.5 million farmers, in 12 languages in 40 different countries. It’s a novel concept, but if you focus on helping consumers solve problems and get jobs done instead of “sell, sell, sell” the revenue will come. It just requires a long-term perspective.

In his book “Epic Content Marketing”, Joe Pulizzi defines Content Marketing as the marketing and business process for creating and distributing valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly define and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable consumer action. Content marketing is a strategy that focuses on the creation of a valuable experience.

As Pulizzi articulates in his book “Epic Content Marketing”, there is one thing that separates the content developed by a media company and the content developed by a brand, its how the money comes in. For a media company, content is created in order to make money directly from the creation of content through paid content sales. For a non media company, content is created, not to profit from the content, but to attract and retain customers. Content supports the business, but it is not the business model(meaning that non media companies are required to make revenues directly off the content itself.

Content Marketing is a new way of thinking about marketing that has been around for at least 120 years. Content marketing is about creating useful information for customers so they actually pay attention to you. It is marketing without selling. As Pulizzi so accurately writes, “your customers don’t care about your products, they care about themselves”.

Can you think of another brand that does a great job of providing their customers with useful content?

Yesterday I attended Mariano Rivera day at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. What an honor. Andy Pettite also pitched his last home game for the Yankees. It marked the end of a truly great era of baseball in New York. From 1996 through 2002, the Yankees won 5 World Championships, 7 American League Championship Series and made the playoffs every year except 2008. The team was led by five players who demonstrated teamwork and an incredible will to win; Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettite, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. These five demonstrated teamwork and a passion for winning that we are not likely to see for a long time in New York baseball.

This group led by example and along with Joe Torre and complimented by Paul O’Neill and David Cone created a culture of winning in New York. While talented, it was the intangibles, that separated these players from their peers. This group was at their best in the playoffs when the game and season was on the line. Mariano recorded 42 saves and posted a 0.70 ERA in the post season.


Mariano Rivera is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He was the most dominant closer in the history of the sport. He will be voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Mariano is also a great humanitarian. His contributions to improving communities in Panama where he grew up and in the United States were recognized throughout his final season. In 1998, Mariano and his wife Clara established the Mariano Rivera Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to share with the community a portion of the blessings that Mariano earned in his baseball career. The childhood challenges faced by the Rivera’s have been the inspiration for them to focus on the needs of children in similar situations.

Since 1995, Mariano has carried himself with grace, class, dignity, honesty and humility at a time when these values have been in short supply on the American sports scene. The quality that I most admire about Mariano on the field has been his ability to bounce back from some huge disappointments, make improvements and take his career to an even higher level.

I have great memories of watching Mariano Rivera pitch at old and new Yankee Stadium. I had the opportunity to watch Mo save the final game of the World Series in 1999 and 2009. I believe his greatest moment as a Yankees was the three shutout innings that he pitched in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. For three innings, he stopped the Red Sox powerful lineup, until Aaron Boone hit his memorable walk off home run. This was the greatest baseball game that I ever saw in person. Mariano has been my favorite Yankee player during this incredible run.

Yankees fans have been fortunate and somewhat spoiled to watch Mariano Rivera for all these years. He will be missed.

In your opinion, what is Mariano Rivera’s greatest accomplishment?

Airbnb is an online community that helps travelers find cheap and unique places to stay by connecting them with locals looking to rent out their homes, apartments, and even spare bedrooms. Airbnb was founded in 2008 and is based in San Francisco, California. The company has grown rapidly. Airbnb has booked over 10 million guest nights. As of September 2013, the company had over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries.

Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences at any price point. Travelers can book an apartment for a night, a castle for a week or a villa for a month. Airbnb is the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to millions of users.

Airbnb has evolved to meet the needs of their users. Airbnb realized that their customers needed more than just a play to stay. They learned that their users are looking for interesting experiences in the neighborhoods where they are renting property. They’ve done this by utilizing content marketing and featuring a range of interesting and useful information designed to increase engagement. Airbnb introduced Neighborhood Guides in 2012, a series of travel guides, that help travelers determine where they should stay in a city and once they’re there, and how to get the most out of their home away from home.

Airbnb Neighborhood Guides combine stunning photography, local editorial perspective, and practical information to let you discover the neighborhood for yourself. Airbnb hopes that customers are able to make better decisions around where they’d like to stay, are more aligned with their tastes, and have a better experience overall.

Airbnb just released an innovative short film directed via Twitter and shot entirely on Vine. The story centers on the journey of a white piece of paper. The initiative, dubbed Hollywood & Vines, instructed users via Twitter on what to film, including paper airplanes flying and a boat on rough seas. The result is a four-minute short film, which debuted on the Sundance Channel, that not only captures immense creativity, but the adventurous spirits that embody Airbnb users. The film extend’s Airbnb’s roots as a socially connected innovative brand.

Have you booked a property through Airbnb?



Last night, I had the opportunity to attend an American Marketing Association (AMA) Event in Boston. The event was titled the “Past Present and Future of Content Marketing, Impacting Behavior Change”. Over 180 enthusiastic marketers attended. The event was a panel discussion moderated by Graham Nelson, Senior Vice President, AMP Agency. Panelists included:

  • Ann Hadley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs and author “Content Rules”
  • Jessica Gioglio, Public Relations and Social Media Manager, Dunkin Donuts
  • Tim Washer, Senior Marketing Manager, Social Media, Cisco
  • Margot Bloomstein, Brand and Content Strategy Consultant, Appropriate Inc.

The Content Marketing Institute defines “Content Marketing as a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience with the objective of driving customer action”.

Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating relevant and useful content with the intention of engaging consumers with the goal of changing or enhancing consumer behavior. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it.


Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. You are providing useful information. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if brands deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty. Content marketing is storytelling. Content Marketing is a fundamental shift in the way brands are marketed. 

Listed below are my Top 10 insights or memorable quotes from last night’s session:

  • “The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing”. It creates an experience for your customers.
  • “Marketing that feels like art is the most successful”. 
  • “Marketing needs to learn from journalism and tell the brand story in an engaging way”. It’s important for marketers to think like publishers.
  • The key to successful content marketing is becoming more “customer centric” and developing a content strategy 
  • It’s about understanding your customer’s pain points and providing solutions.
  • It’s important to integrate visual and video. Vine is an important new tool.
  • Use social channels as a tool for storytelling in addition to sharing.
  • Successful content marketing involves people across the organization and obtaining support and buy-in through experimentation.
  • Content problems are people problems not technology issues.
  • The first step in successful Content Marketing to find your content mission.
Does your Brand or Company have a Content Marketing Strategy?

America has a strong love affair with the hamburger. Half the country reports eating a burger at least once a week. 90% of people eat at least one burger a month. Hamburgers are among the biggest and most competitive food markets in the United States. In 2012, the “Better Burger” market grew by over 20%.


Smashburger is an American chain of fast casual burgers restaurants that originated in Denver, Colorado in 2007. The company was founded by Tom Ryan. The name Smashburger refers to the process by which its 1/4-pound, 1/3-pound and 1/2-pound burgers are made. It begins with a ball of raw Angus Beef, which a grill cook “smashes” with a handheld steel mold on to a butter-brushed grill for ten seconds, giving the patty a caramelized sear to lock in the juices. Every burger is made fresh to order. Smashburger offers unconventional toppings including avocado, fried eggs and garlic mushrooms. The typical meal at Smashburger costs $10-$12, $2-$4 more than a meal at McDonald’s.


Every market has specialized burgers created for and sold only in that market. In the D.C. market, for example, there’s the Capital Burger, which isn’t made with lettuce but baby arugula. It’s also has grilled onion, aged Swiss cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes and mayo and is served on a brioche bun. Or, there’s the Brooklyn Burger which is topped with grilled pastrami and served on a pretzel bun with yellow mustard. Smashburger also sells sweet potato fries, chili cheese fries, and the house-specialty Smashfries, which come tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic.

Smashburger has experienced rapid growth. It is estimated that Smashburger will end the year with over 250 locations. Their goal is to build 400 new units over the next six years. When Smashburger opened its first unit in 2007, the better burger category was just starting to take off. Six years later Smashburger is an industry leader. Forbes magazine ranked Smashburger as America’s most promising company. Smashburger has also made the Inc 500/5000 list an exclusive ranking of the fastest growing private companies for three consecutive years.

Smashburger marketing has relied heavily on social media and generating word of mouth. Smashburger focuses heavily on events, such as when it offered a free sandwich to anyone with “burger” or “berger” in their name on National Cheeseburger day, he said. Each time it enters a new market, it contacts social media trend-setters like restaurant bloggers and “mommy” bloggers who influence where consumers eat. Then, before the restaurant opens its door, it invites the bloggers in — as a group — to demonstrate how the food is prepared.

The other key differentiator is the in-store environment and customer experience. The stores have a cool look. The food is brought to the table, so consumers  don’t have to stand around and wait. The burgers are served in a stainless-steel wire basket with a real knife and fork not plastic.

Have you eaten at a Smashburger location?

“Better Burger” is one of the fastest growing segments in the fast food restaurant market. Five Guys has grown rapidly and now has over 1,000 locations, In-and Out Burger has close to 300 locations on the West Coast and Smashburger has over 200 locations. “Better Burgers” account for an estimated one-third of fast food burger sales. “Better Burger” restaurants provide upscale fast food that beats the chains on food quality and customer experience at reasonable prices.

On a recent trip to Connecticut, I had the opportunity to visit a Shake Shack restaurant, a growing burger chain headquartered in New York. I had read about Shake Shack and was interested to visit one of their 23 locations. Shake Shack is a modern-day burger stand that serves Black Angus Burgers, Vienna All-Beef Chicago Style Hot Dogs, and custard made from premium ice cream. They also serve beer and wine. Shake Shack’s burgers are 100% all-natural Angus Beef and contain no hormones or antibiotics. All burgers are ground fresh and sourced from local artisans. Shake Shack combines high quality classic food with a pleasant customer experience.


Shake Shack was a complete accident. Shake Shack started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in Manhattan. It began when Danny Meyer and the Madison Square Park Conservancy decided to raise funds to help turn the park around. The cart was a success. The stand disposed of the notion that fast food had to be precooked or even prepared quickly in favor of quality ingredients and customer experience. The lines for the hot dogs soon became so long that New York City and the Union Square Hospitality Group, which operated the stand, decided to open a bigger facility at the same location in 2004.

The concept resonated with the local community. Soon there were long lines with more than an hour wait. In 2008, The Union Square Hospitality Group opened another location on New York’s Upper West Side and in 2009 at the New York Met’s new stadium, Citi Field. In 2009, the New York Times called Shake Shack the “anti-chain”. Each restaurant has a unique design that represents the local community. It is the opposite of the typical fast food chain which crams people into a cookie-cutter space to feed them as many unhealthy calories as possible – then get them to leave.

The Union Square Hospitality Group owns Shake Shack. Union Square Hospitality Group was founded by Danny Meyer and runs some of New York City’s most famous restaurants including Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and the North End Grill. Shake Shack’s management team honed it skills running upscale restaurants.

Shake Shack has taken the time to get the concept, brand and experience right before expanding. They focus on trying to do three things really well:

  • Consistently deliver the highest quality, most delicious food
  • Create a place where people love to come together in the neighborhood
  • Offer great value

Their internal motto is “The bigger we get the smaller we need to act”. It will be interesting to see if Shake Shack can maintain a great customer experience as it expands.

Have you eaten at a Shake Shack?